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Fortistar is an independent energy company that got its start in the 1970s as a financial company, but has since become an operational company with 250 to 300 employees and plants in at least 15 states and Canada, according to the company’s chief information officer, David Comora.

It operates three distinct types of power plants – those fueled by biomass, by landfill gas and by the more typical natural gas.

Fortistar has six operating biomass facilities, with three in the U.S. and three in Canada. Besides operating the energy facilities, Fortistar also owns and operates the recycling facilities that feed the power plants.

For the U.S. power plants, Fortistar has a tire shredding facility which includes picking up tires for processing. For the Canadian plants, they own and operate a facility that processes construction waste to reclaim the wood for use as fuel.

The largest number of power plants that Fortistar owns are the ones that reclaim gas from landfills, with 35 plants in operation all across the country. Comora said that those plants produce fewer megawatts per plant than other types, but they operate very locally, supplying power to their local communities.

The landfill plants use a well-and-vacuum system that collects the methane from the landfills. The methane is then pumped to Fortistar’s facility where they “clean it up and run turbines to generate electricity,” according to Comora.

He said that running a methane collection business is a good way to tell “the difference between well-managed garbage and not.” Many of the landfills that Fortistar is affiliated with are operated with a public/private partnership where the county owns the landfill, which is separate from the utility company that provides the electricity to the community.

Comora said that the landfills and energy companies are integral parts of their communities – the electricity is generated from community trash, and the energy is returned to those same communities. He also said that Fortistar’s energy businesses form relationships within those communities, including funding renewable energy scholarships for high school students.

“We work with some of the largest landfill services and some small operations,” Comora said. Many of the natural gas businesses are also very small, but “they still have the same checklist of stuff you have to do.”

Comora said that by operating all of these small plants with the same technology, they can key in on information sent to a central hub where they can look for exceptions and operate at a lower cost than someone “who has to do this with pen and paper.”

In recent years, Comora said that the price of natural gas has gone down, which lowered the price of electricity, and that has made it a challenge to build and expand facilities to generate electricity. But the company looks at the long term. “We’re not day-trading,” Comora said.

Fortistar recently branched out into compressed natural gas, which is used as an alternative to diesel fuel. “The U.S. has an abundance of natural gas,” Comora said, and using compressed gas as automotive fuel lessens the need for foreign oil. It helps provide “energy security by using local resources,” he said. The compressed gas costs customers about half as much as diesel fuel, but in order to use it, the companies need to convert their trucks to run on compressed gas.

He said that one of the largest customers for the compressed gas fuel is landfills and trash collection companies because “the trucks come home to sleep” and can fuel up at the end of the day. “Compressed natural gas, we think is a home run,” he said.

Although the company’s real business is energy, Comora said that until recently, they were also in the tomato business. It wasn’t much of a moneymaker, but one of the energy plants had a 13-acre greenhouse attached to it. The plant generated both electricity and steam, and the steam was used to heat the greenhouse, which grew the tomatoes.

The tomatoes are no longer part of the company’s portfolio, but Fortistar strives to focus on clean and renewable energy sources. “We’re not interested in coal-, oil- or petroleum-based energy,” Comora said. “We’re committed to being a part of the energy solutions for the country.”

Comora’s own history with the company started when he was working in the technology sector for a company that didn’t quite need him full time, so he started spending some of his time with Fortistar, which gave him an opportunity to “sink his teeth in,” particularly with the technology infrastructure. Since then, he’s witnessed the growth of the company and the development of that infrastructure. “It’s better to be part of a growing company than a shrinking company,” he said.

Published in the August 2014 Edition of American Recycler News